Sunday, 10 October 2010

Steampunk is not a lifestyle

So many people seem desperate to add things to Steampunk that aren't there or that are parts of other subcultures they like. Steampunk is, at it's most basic, a nostalgia concept. Nostalgia for the Victorian era. This is not a new concept either. Looking back at a time where manners were arguably better, where goods and clothing were made to last (even the ones that came off a production line), where war was something you might read about in the paper but there was little chance of it arriving on your doorstep, is something that people have been doing for decades. "The Good Old Days" always have a heavy rose tint about them and will ignore or gloss over the poverty, vilification and abuse of the time.

Steampunk tries to incorporate the nostalgia of the past with the social conscience of today. Racial slurs are out, exploitation of the poor is a bad thing, and trampling on foreign countries because you have more guns is *bad*. We've added to that the SF elements of a more advanced technology, so we can have our computers but with bevelled edges and lacework, or our rayguns, or we learn how to say thank you.

There's no DIY ethic in Steampunk. Sure some of the people involved love learning how old tech works. But Fred Dibnah was not a steampunk despite being more DIY with steam engines than anyone I know. Most of the DIY is simply practical. If I want my computer to have old typewriter keys then I have to do it myself because the local Radio Shack doesn't sell them that way. Any "anti-corporate" and recycling concepts would vanish under a deluge of credit card purchases if Dell brought out a "pre-steampunked" laptop.

Railing against human rights abuses, globalisation, working conditions and equal opportunity are also not Steampunk. Yes steampunks may have views on those topics but so do most politicians. The current US President is trying to get a healthcare package through so that poor people can get access to basic medical attention. Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize for trying to bring democracy to China. Neither of them are steampunk.

I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call steampunk a fetishism of 19th century technology but it can be close. The high nostalgia element is certainly there as I said. But that doesn't make it punk. Choosing to not eat meat because you dislike animal cruelty makes you a vegetarian, not a punk decrying the Establishment.

People who claim steampunk is a lifestyle are mistaken. Steampunk has no political agenda. There is no "steampunk world view". Choosing to wear waistcoats or button-up boots 7 days a week hardly qualifies for a "lifestyle". It's like being a sports fan. You have your chosen sport and often a specific club that you may be passionate about but there's no "Red Socks Lifestyle" or "Manchester United Lifestyle". It's just called being a fan.


Christine McAllister Pearse said...

Excellent article! I should direct certain people who get sniffy that they are better than others because they "Live the Steampunk Lifestyle". Well done!

Zoe Connolly said...

Well done, Edward!

Excellent post.

RF said...

Well stated, sir!